Vernon County Museum Notes: Whitestown man was among Vernon County’s first white settlers

By CAROL KROGAN | assistant curator

The first white settler in what is now Vernon County was John McCullough, who arrived at what is now Liberty Pole in 1844. Thus began the development of our county, when pioneers from Ohio, Illinois, other states and other countries came to Wisconsin, seeking land for sale. Vernon County is known as a “melting pot” with a variety of ethnic groups, including Norwegian, German, Czech, Italian and English. 


This sawmill on the Kickapoo River was built by Giles White and was later operated by Elbert Sandon and Elmer Hoffman. Bert Jones was the head sawyer. 

The first settler of the town of Whitestown was Giles White, who arrived in 1855. White was born in Oneida county, N.Y., in 1820. When he was just 17 years old, he travelled to Medina County, Ohio, to engage in farming. While living there, he met and married Caroline Kelly in 1843. She was native of Tioga County, N.Y. Two of their children, Angeline “Angie” and Mary, were born in Ohio. The family left Ohio in 1853 and travelled to several states before settling in Vernon County. He chose 200 acres of timbered land in section 2. The town of Whitestown was established and organized in 1856, and Giles White was elected as town chairman. White also was a member of the county board. 

White erected a sawmill in 1856 and was also engaged in lumbering, merchandising and farming. He was known as a successful businessman, which not only benefitted his family, but also the growing community of Ontario, which he platted and laid out in 1857. 

The Baptist Church of Ontario was established in 1859 by Rev. B.S. Tuttle. Among the founding members was Caroline White.

The Whites’ first child, Angie, was born in 1846. She married Elbert W. Sandon in 1874; they had no children. Sandon, who came to Ontario in 1866, was a miller, merchant and farmer in Ontario. Angie died in 1897 and is buried in the Old Ontario Cemetery. Elbert remarried and passed away in 1910. 


Giles and Caroline White, founders of the town of Whitestown

The Whites’ daughter, Mary, was born in 1848 and died in 1865. 

A third child, Cassius F., was born in 1860. In 1885, he married Rettie De Lap, daughter of Thomas and Mary De Lap, also of Ontario. Thomas De Lap was the Ontario postmaster from 1882 to 1893. Cassius and Rettie had two children, Glenn and Mary. 

In 1880, Cassius was in partnership with his brother-in-law Elbert Sandon in the sawmill and flour mill business. He was also a well-known horseman and real estate dealer and lived in La Crosse. While in Forbes, N.D., in 1913, he was thrown from a horse and became paralyzed. Although he was not expected to live, he returned to La Crosse, where he remained until his death in 1917. His wife also remained in La Crosse and died there in 1946. Both are buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in La Crosse. 

Giles White passed away in 1896; and Caroline, in 1901. Both are buried at the Old Ontario Cemetery.

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Plans for our annual Volunteer and Member Banquet are being finalized. It will be held this year on Sunday, Nov. 14, at the Viroqua VFW. Our speaker will be Jeff Kannel, author of the book, “Make Way Liberty: Wisconsin African Americans in the Civil War.” The book features African American soldiers from Vernon County who lived in the Cheyenne Valley area. 

Kannel has been a volunteer and tour guide at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha since 2012 and speaks around the state about the role of Wisconsin African American soldiers and employees during the Civil War. Watch our newsletter, website or Facebook page for additional details about the banquet.  

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Winter is coming, and the museum’s hours are changing. Beginning the week of Oct. 31, the museum will be open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 12–4 p.m. These hours continue through March. We are always open by appointment, so please feel free to give us a call a (608) 637-7396 or email us at [email protected] We will do our best to accommodate you.

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